Bringing back the Poplar


Britain’s rarest native timber tree has been given a boost, with 20 Black Poplars planted in parks and open spaces across Tower Hamlets during the 2019-20 tree planting season.

In addition to its rarity, the Black Poplar is also the origin of the name of Poplar district. John Gerard’s famous Herbal of 1597 records that many Black Poplar trees grew in the marshy pastures around what is now Poplar. Black Poplars no longer reproduce naturally in Britain for a number of reasons. Its conservation is therefore totally dependent on planting more trees.

Due to its rarity and the historical link to the area, the Black Poplar is a priority species in the Local Biodiversity Action Plan. The target in the 2019-24 Plan is to plant 25 trees, and 80% of this has just been delivered in the first planting season.

Volunteers planting tree

Meath Gardens volunteers (Lee Smith)

Following on from the five Black Poplars planted with the Mayor in Victoria Park in October to launch the Local Biodiversity Action Plan, another was added there in January, and six were planted in Mile End Park (see header photo). One was planted in Meath Gardens, on the site of an old Black Poplar that recently died, as part of a community planting and consultation day organised with the Friends of Meath Gardens. A Black Poplar was also included in a new tree planting scheme in Ion Square Gardens, along with 20 other native trees and an orchard of 11 fruit trees. This was originally intended to be another community planting event, but the trees had to be planted by the Council’s tree contractor after the coronavirus situation ruled out community participation. The Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park planted three in Cemetery Park.

Away from parks, Trees for Cities planted three Black Poplars for EastendHomes on the Glamis Estate. The choice of trees was made in consultation with residents. These are probably the first Black Poplars to be planted on housing land in the borough.

There are now over 50 Black Poplars in Tower Hamlets. Most of these are small, having been planted in the last few years. There are a few mature trees, and fine specimens can be found in Meath Gardens, St Anne’s Churchyard Limehouse, Victoria Park along Grove Road and by East Lake, and beside the old burial ground in Queen Mary University of London’s Mile End Campus.

In addition to the planting, cuttings from the Black Poplar in St Anne’s Churchyard, Limehouse, were taken by the Tree Musketeers to Hackney Community Tree Nursery to propagate more trees for future planting.

Black Poplar in winter

Black Poplar in Meath Gardens (John Archer)


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